In this article we're going to take a look at a couple classic funk grooves and discover how incredibly easy they are. Breaking down funk grooves and tunes in this way is very helpful for a number of reasons. First, it shows us that some of these grooves, while incredibly catchy and funky, are quite simple and basic at their core. Second, it shows that rhythmic precision and a strong sense of time are hugely important, especially considering that the chords are sometimes very easy. Thirdly, it can give you some ideas for how to compose your own tunes or funk grooves. And lastly, studying the grooves can give us a deeper understanding of the chords, progressions, and scales. Having a deeper understanding of these topics can help us generate ideas for soloing.
"Use Me," a classic funk tune by Bill Withers, is an incredibly easy tune to learn. What's best is that the keyboard part (played on a clavinet) is a central hook of the song. ("Hook" is a term used in funk, pop, and rock music to describe a central recurring musical theme in a song, usually the chorus). This tune is based on only 2 chords - E minor 7 and A7, one measure apiece. That's it. Back and forth between these two chords for the entire song. Check it out and listen closely.
Now, it's important to note that there is no comping when playing these chords. Instead, these chords are outlined by way of a repetitive clavinet line.
But what is incredibly important is the groove - the idea of the rhythmic precision and interlocking relationship of the bass, drums, and clav. Here are a couple practice tips for nailing this funk groove.
Ok, let's move onto something a little more challenging, yet still quite simple. "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground" is a funky tune by the Jackson 5. This tune is based on ONE chord. Yup. Whole tune. One chord. And yet, it's a totally funky dance tune that makes you wanna move. Why? How? Well, the groove is awesome. So the key to practicing this one is to quickly learn the left hand and right hand parts (easy) and practice playing them hands together (a little harder). Check out the 2-bar groove.
Some good news: All of the notes above are white notes on the piano. The song basically stays on G7 the whole time (G mixolydian scale). The less good news: Lots of 16th notes. But don't let 16th notes scare you. With some slow practice and counting, they're the same as any subdivision. The key is go slowly.